Chapters 9–15

Summary: Chapter 9

Rasheed shows Mariam her new home. She begins to cry, longing for her old life. Rasheed tells her to stop; he can’t stand the sound of a woman crying. Rasheed takes Mariam to her room, telling her he prefers to sleep alone. Mariam is shaking, and Rasheed asks her if she is afraid of him. Mariam lies and says she isn’t afraid. Rasheed assures Mariam that she will like her new home, and then he leaves Mariam alone.

Summary: Chapter 10

Mariam doesn’t leave her new room for several days. She mostly lies in bed afraid. Rasheed comes to her room in the evenings and tells her about his day, and what he’d heard on the news. Mariam doesn’t understand much, and she waits quietly for Rasheed to leave. One night, Rasheed pauses in her doorway and tells Mariam she should start acting like his wife. Mariam unpacks her things the next morning. She cleans the house and prepares food. Mariam needs to take her dough to the tandoor, a community oven. The other women introduce themselves and bombard Mariam with questions. Mariam is overwhelmed and flees the crowd. She finds Rasheed’s house and locks herself inside. When Rasheed returns from work, he does not notice the cleaning Mariam has done, but he compliments her cooking. Rasheed suggests he show Mariam around Kabul the next day, and he gives Mariam a burqa. Rasheed expects his wife to be respectful: Mariam’s face is her husband’s business. 

Summary: Chapter 11

Rasheed has to help Mariam into her burqa the next day. Mariam has never worn one before, but Rasheed tells her she will learn to like it. They walk through a market, and Rasheed steps into a store. As Mariam waits outside, she notices the other women. These “modern” women wear lipstick and high heels, and they walk about unaccompanied by men. When Rasheed emerges from the store, he presents Mariam with a beautiful, silk scarf. Mariam sees kindness in the gesture and thanks Rasheed. That night, Rasheed does not leave Mariam alone. Rasheed puts his hand on Mariam’s neck and begins stroking her skin. Mariam is afraid, but Rasheed does not stop. Intercourse is painful for Mariam. Rasheed leaves Mariam’s room when he is finished.

Summary: Chapter 12

Mariam prepares to observe Ramadan. The city of Kabul has transformed, and so has Rasheed. He only fasts occasionally, and the hunger turns his mood foul. The end of Ramadan is a relief for Mariam. She and Rasheed join the other families, and the streets are lively with festivity. Fariba, a woman Mariam met at the communal tandoor, greets Mariam. Rasheed tells Mariam to stay away from Fariba. Rasheed says Fariba is a nosy gossip, and her husband, the teacher, is a conceited intellectual. Rasheed entertains male visitors for the three days of Eid, when fasting ends. Mariam doesn’t mind being sent upstairs during these gatherings. Rasheed prizes her honor and wants to protect it. While Mariam cleans Rasheed’s room, she discovers a gun and magazines of naked women. Mariam feels ashamed and confused. Then Mariam finds photographs of Rasheed’s wife and son, both of whom have died. Mariam grieves for Rasheed’s loss. She believes they can begin to build a relationship together.

Summary: Chapter 13

After a doctor confirms that Mariam is pregnant, Rasheed begins preparing their home for the baby. The couple celebrate with Rasheed’s family and friends. Mariam feels love for her child, and she prays to Allah that He will not take this blessing from her. Rasheed suggests Mariam visit a bathhouse. Mariam tries relaxing in the steam and heat, but she feels exposed with the other strangers. Fariba is there, too, and she finds Mariam crying in a corner, blood on the floor. Rasheed takes Mariam back to the doctor, who confirms that the baby was lost. When they get home, Rasheed wraps Mariam in a blanket and criticizes the doctor who had called the miscarriage “God’s will.” Mariam stares outside at the snow and thinks about her own mother.

Summary: Chapter 14

Mariam’s grief takes many forms: envy, guilt, anger. At times, Mariam blames Rasheed for celebrating too early. Sometimes she blames herself, sometimes she blames Allah. Rasheed sulks. He criticizes Mariam constantly, and stops buying her gifts. One night, Mariam asks Rasheed if they could have a burial for the baby. Jalil refuses; he has already buried one child. Later that week, Mariam buries the baby’s coat in the yard and prays over the grave. Mariam asks Allah to give her sustenance.

Summary: Chapter 15

Mariam turns nineteen in 1978, during a time of political unrest in Afghanistan. Mariam tries to ask Rasheed about communism, a growing party in the Afghan government, but Rasheed won’t explain anything. Rasheed ridicules Mariam for not already knowing. She has the brain of a child, he says. Rasheed’s contempt for Mariam goes beyond insults. Mariam has several more miscarriages, and Rasheed has begun beating her. In April, Mariam hears explosions and sees military planes overhead. Rasheed turns on the radio and they wait for news. A few days later, they learn that the Afghan communists have overthrown the government and executed the president. The new regime claims that it will uphold both the country’s principles of Islam and those of democracy. Rasheed feels that this change will benefit him, but his good mood does not last. Mariam’s cooking no longer pleases him. One night, after she undercooks the rice, Rasheed forces Mariam to chew on a handful of pebbles.

Analysis: Chapters 9–15

Chapters 9 through 11 center on the theme of loss of innocence and Mariam’s feelings of inadequacy. Her new life in Kabul requires her to act like a full-grown woman. Even in grieving her mother’s death, Mariam is expected to perform the household duties Rasheed believes a wife owes her husband. Mariam naively seeks solace in the burqa (sometimes seen as a sign of oppression in adult women) as it retains her old fear of how people perceive her at bay. Mariam’s burqa contrasts with images of “modern” women wearing more revealing clothing and makeup. The stylish suits and skirts they wear emphasize the fact that Mariam is still a child. Rasheed rapes Mariam in the culminating event of this section and forces Mariam to confront her childlike nature. The consummation of her marriage in Chapter 11 leaves Mariam feeling scared, alone, and cognizant that she can no longer act like a child if she is to adapt to her new life.

 Chapters 12 through 14 establish gender roles and expectations through depictions of Rasheed’s inner psychological workings. By instructing Mariam to stay away from Fariba and her husband because Fariba is a gossip and her husband is an educated intellectual, two facets of Rasheed’s personality emerge: he is concerned about how people view him, and he doesn’t value education. Rasheed continues to assert his opinion as true even though Mariam expresses dissent; in this household she is not allowed to have an opinion. Mariam reacts strongly to finding Rasheed’s gun, as the gun is a physical symbol of his power. She is overcome with disgust, only to then find pornographic magazines featuring the same “modern women” she compares herself to in the street. Although the pictures of Rasheed’s deceased wife and child attempt to humanize him and connect him to Mariam through loss, Mariam maintains a fear of Rasheed. In their world, a woman’s fear of her husband is expected and encouraged.

Mariam’s pregnancy and subsequent miscarriages reveal more about gender roles in Afghan society, and emphasize how Rasheed determines Mariam’s value by her ability to bear a son. When Mariam becomes pregnant, the couple’s joyous moments are short-lived. Rasheed, convinced the baby is a boy, steps up as a husband and prepares the house for the baby’s arrival. The act is noteworthy in that he prepares not because Mariam is expecting a child but because he desperately wants a son. Nana’s sentiments on how women must endure come back to Mariam during this time. Her position as a wife under the control of a man is now similar to Nana’s position, and she can now empathize with her dead mother. The miscarriage causes a permanent shift in Rasheed’s behavior toward Mariam as he begins to lose his patience and no longer treats her with any semblance of kindness. In his eyes, Mariam has failed as a woman. His refusal to bury the child marks one of many cruel acts Mariam endures at Rasheed’s hands.

Chapter 15 is significant because it introduces a device where events in the character’s lives mirror violent political shifts in Afghanistan’s history. Linking the circumstances of their country to the character’s lives allows Hosseini to argue that one is never truly divorced from the external forces that influence their lives. These historical events are first described in tandem with Mariam’s 19th birthday in 1978. The murder of a government official is the first mention of political violence, which will feature heavily in the novel. Rasheed shows much enthusiasm for current events but refuses to share his knowledge of communism with Mariam, indicating that he believes it isn’t her place as a woman to be privy to political affairs. With Rasheed beginning to beat Mariam after her multiple miscarriages, the violence in their household mirrors the violence that descends upon Kabul.

In the chapter’s most visceral scene, Rasheed’s place as the antagonist is solidified. As punishment for undercooking rice, Rasheed forces Mariam to chew pebbles that bloody her mouth and break her teeth. This act foreshadows further violent acts Rasheed will commit against Mariam. This show of abusive behavior also cements the continued mistreatment Mariam will endure, which again harkens back to Nana’s cautionary words.